The value-adding functionality of Web documents

Submitted to the Workshop on Virtual Documents, Hypertext Functionality and the Web

Kevin Crowston

Marie Williams

Syracuse University
School of Information Studies

Web Architechs

4-206 Centre for Science and Technology
Syracuse, NY 13244-4100
206 Meadowbrook Dr.
Syracuse, NY 13210
Phone: +1 (315) 443-1676
Fax: +1 (315) 443-5806
Phone: +1 (315) 426-0272
Fax: +1 (315) 426-0679

The World-Wide Web (or the Web) is an Internet client-server communication system for retrieving and displaying multi-media hypertext documents (Berners-Lee, et al., 1994). Documents are identified by an address called a Uniform Resource Locator or URL. The Web's main advantage over earlier Internet systems is its merger of retrieval and display tools, its capacity for handling formatted text, embedded graphics and other media and point-and-click links to other documents (hence the name). As well, many browsers are capable of seamlessly retrieving information using older protocols (e.g., FTP, Gopher and Usenet News) and automatically launching other applications to display diverse Internet data types (e.g., sound, animation).

As a basis for studying organizational communications, Yates and Orlikowski (1992; Orlikowski and Yates, 1994) proposed using genres. They defined genres as, "typified communicative actions characterized by similar substance and form and taken in response to recurrent situations" (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992, p. 299). They further suggested that communications in a new media would show both reproduction and adaptation of existing communicative genres as well as the emergence of new genres.

Crowston and Williams (in press) found numerous examples of pages that recreated genres familiar from traditional media. They also saw examples of genres being adapted to take advantage of the linking and interactivity of the new medium and novel genres emerging to fit the unique communicative needs of the audience.

More interesting, the technology of the Web enables novel applications based on a shift from static documents to "live" data. For example, Yan et al. (1996) describe how patterns of user access can be used to suggest which information should be viewed next. However, these uses of the Web are unlike conventional documents. Instead, we expect such systems to recreate genres from information systems. Therefore, we propose using a typology of system value-adding processes to categorize the functionality of Web sites. Specifically, we propose using Taylor's value-added model (Taylor, 1986). Value-added processes are those "characteristics or attributes which are added to the data and information items being processed that make them more useful to users than they were at the start of the process" (Taylor, 1986, p. 19). An information system adds value by helping users make choices or clarify their options. In this framework, many uses of the web are such value-adding systems.

Taylor goes on to list numerous ways that a system can be value-adding (what he calls "user criteria of choice"): by enhancing ease of use (e.g., easier access to data), by noise reduction (e.g., providing selected information), by quality (e.g., accuracy or currency), by adaptability (e.g., addressing a specific user need) and by time or cost savings.

For example, a Web search engine such as Altavista provides ease of use by allowing searches for documents with specified keywords. On the other hand, a Web index such as Yahoo provides noise reduction, since it includes only a selection of Web sites and may improve quality, if the selection is accurate, comprehensive, current and reliable. An article database such as ABI/Inform or Lexis/Nexis goes even further in providing noise reduction (e.g., by providing abstracts of articles) and quality (e.g., by selecting articles from trusted sources). Finally, hot lists of sources (e.g., the MkLinux resources page) provide what Taylor calls adaptability, because the sources chosen are those that are directly relevant to a specific task (in this case, setting up a computer to use MkLinux). All of these systems may provide time or cost savings compared to retrieving the information by taking a trip to the library (though perhaps at the expense of one of the other criteria).


Berners-Lee, T., Cailliau, R., Luotonen, A., Nielsen, H. F. and Secret, A. (1994). The World-Wide Web. Communications of the ACM, 37(8), 76-82.

Crowston, K. and Williams, M. (in press). Reproduced and emergent genres of communication on the World-Wide Web. The Information Society.

Orlikowski, W. J. and Yates, J. (1994). Genre repertoire: The structuring of communicative practices in organizations. Administrative Sciences Quarterly, 33, 541-574.

Taylor, R. S. (1986). Value Added Processes in Information Systems. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Yan, T. W., Jacobsen, M., Garcia-Molina, H. and Dayal, U. (1996). From user access patterns to dynamic hypertext linking. In Fifth International World Wide Web Conference. Paris, France.

Yates, J. and Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). Genres of organizational communication: A structurational approach to studying communications and media. Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299-326.